The US has increased its engagement with several Pacific Island nations in recent weeks amid growing competition with China. Washington signed a new bilateral defense cooperation agreement with Papua New Guinea (PNG) on Monday.”
Geopolitical competition with China is one of the reasons the US has increased its engagement in the Pacific,” said Parker Novak, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub.
The move sparked protests staged by civil society groups and several universities. However, the US insists the new agreement can help improve security cooperation between the two countries, enhance the defense capacity of Papua New Guinea’s defense forces, and allow the US to be more responsive in emergency situations such as disaster relief. The deal would also allow US forces to access airfields and ports in PNG.
“We’re deeply invested in the Indo-Pacific because our planet’s future is being written here. Papua New Guinea is playing a critical role in shaping that future,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in Port Moresby to sign the agreement, told journalists on Monday.
Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape described the security pact as “mutually beneficial,” and that the agreement would help the country to become “a robust economy” in the Pacific region.
He added that the deal is “not about geopolitics,” and that it didn’t restrict the PNG government from working with other countries, such as China.
He also said that PNG, the most populous Pacific Island nation with a population of nearly 10 million people, won’t be used as a base for offensive military operations.
“There’s a specific clause that says that this partnership is not a partnership for PNG to be used as a place for launching offensive military operations from Papua New Guinea,” he told a local radio station on Tuesday.
The deal comes as the US and US allies like Australia try to increase their security engagement with Pacific Island nations after China signed a security pact with Solomon Islands last year. (DW)